Childhood obesity, community breakdown, and the demise of the high street have all been blamed on the revolution in digital communication. While it may be true that computer games discourage physical activity, that worldwide communication has done little for neighbourliness, and online shopping is taking trade from town centre stores, that’s only one side of the story.
Online communication can reduce isolation, particularly for people who are less mobile through age or disability and, in rural areas, internet shopping has been a lifeline for sustaining postal services. In the world of ‘clicks and bricks’ development, businesses such as the Hive Network have innovated to combine the convenience of online ordering with support for local bookshops.
At the local level, perhaps in response to the facelessness of Facebook and the anonymity of Twitter, social media is increasingly being used to bring people together in person. Sites for car-sharing (giving and getting lifts), couchsurfing and nightswapping (free accommodation), and for lending tools and equipment are all part of a growing ‘sharing economy’ – countering competition and consumerism, particularly in times of financial hardship and excessive waste.
Cash mobs – surprise group spending sprees – use social media to bring people together for community-building that supports local, independent shops, creates real friendships, good feelings. It also, hopefully, inspires others to get active rather than going online to complain about car park charges and the dominance of the retail giants.
Sometimes, digital media can extend face-to-face coverage and make management more sustainable. Timebanking is about people trading their time to give and get support – earning and spending time credits (1 credit for 1 hour’s help). The help and support is very much face-to-face and traditionally members in the UK have been matched by a (human) timebroker. However in recent years, online facilities have put the matching process in the hands of more techno-savvy time bank members themselves and embraced a wider geographical area. In the USA (birthplace of timebanking) connecting online has been a feature for many more years than in the UK because of distances and numbers involved.
At a time when household budgets are being squeezed and our ‘throwaway society’ is under attack, sites like Freecycle and Freegle meet both a need for free items, and a desire to save items from ending up in landfill. At a time when some say people ‘know the price of everything and the value of nothing’, it’s heartening to know that so many people are willing to give away their pre-loved possessions without expecting payment in return. That’s e-bay, this is free-bay!
I can only speculate that much sharing and connecting in local communities now taking place would not have happened without the technology to make that first contact so relatively easy and unthreatening. What do you think?
Order books online at www.hive.co.uk and support local bookshops
Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler
The Power of Just Doing Stuff: How local action can change the world by Rob Hopkins
Together: How small groups achieve big things by Henry Hemming
What’s Mine is Yours: How collaborative consumption is changing the way we live by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers
Cash mobs – http://bit.ly/1eiRcKq
Timebanking – http://www.timebanking.org